Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Valletta, Malta

Malta is compelling. From the start we were struck by its beauty. It is in great contrast to an island like Santorini, where the beauty was confined to a couple of towns. Every place has its down side, but we did not find that side of Malta. As you enter Valletta's grand harbor, you see medieval forts on either side. All of the medieval structures and the more modern buildings in the vicinity are built of the same color of tan stone. Others are painted that color. The uniformity of the color reminds us of Jerusalem, where everything, old or new, is built of the same stone. The shutters and doors of the buildings by the harbor are painted in blue, red, green and gold, which adds a bright note to the area.

We did a shore excursion, 'the Malta experience and panorama', which started with a 45-minute movie about the history of Malta. I must confess that I remember very little of the movie, because the dark theater made me want to sleep, and I did give in to that for part of the time. Malta is in a strategic location, which meant that it spent much of its history under occupation by various powers, and it withstood severe bombing by the Germans during World War II. The last power to claim Malta as their territory was Great Britain, which granted Malta its independence in 1964. In 1974 it officially became a republic.

After that a bus took us all over the island, through several towns and lots of countryside. On most of the island, every bit of land that was not occupied by a town was divided into fields by stacked stone walls. The Maltese people use prickly pear cactus for their wind breaks - the first time I've ever seen that. We passed several small town harbors and saw examples of their unique styles of fishing boats. On one part of the coast we saw a series of old stone lookout towers.

The climax of the trip was our stop at a castle, which was built by the Knights of the Order of St. John, and is now part of a hotel. We were served refreshments here, that introduced us to some of the local fare. That fare included bread, cheese turnovers, olives, cheese & crackers, and a locally brewed herb drink called Kinnie. We did not warm up to the Kinnie right away - it started out sweet, but ended with a slight bitterness - but we chose to try a second glass, and discovered that we really liked it. It is made at a local brewery, but is non-alcoholic.

Near the area of the castle we were able to see from a distance, the island where St. Paul was shipwrecked. That event is recounted in the Bible in Acts 27-28. It was exciting to see that, and to know that on this trip we walked where Paul walked in three different places. What a privilege to be able to do that!

Malta is famous for producing beautiful glass work, which is even more beautiful than Murano glass. I came back with two small pieces, but would have liked to be able to afford and transport back, one of the huge, deep pink vases.

We fell in love with Malta and would love to return some day.

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